Brandon Gaston preferred catching a baseball, not a football, growing up.
“I would play baseball every day,” said Gaston, who didn’t begin playing organized football until eighth grade. “I loved baseball.” However, once the St. Rita senior was introduced to football, he hung up his baseball spikes for good.
It was probably a wise decision, with all due respect to his baseball skills. The 6-2, 185-pound receiver is one of the area’s top pass-catchers with 33 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns. Many of those catches have been of the spectacular variety.
“I have never seen a receiver that can go up and catch the ball like Brandon,” St. Rita coach Todd Kuska said. “He has made every big catch we have had this year. His highlights are the best I have ever seen. He’s running away from people, making incredible catches, blocking. And he’s fearless.”
Gaston has done all that, despite being just 10 months removed from surgery to repair a torn MCL in his left knee. The combination of exceptional speed and size makes him difficult to defend.
“I’m faster after the surgery,” Gaston said. “I worked hard during rehab. I feel great.”
That wasn’t the case in May of 2013. Gaston injured his knee at practice in preparation for competing at the state finals in the triple-jump. An X-ray didn’t reveal any serious damage, though the pain and discomfort prevented Gaston from competing at state.
The knee remained sore during the ‘13 football season, though Gaston played through the pain. It wasn’t until January of 2014 that an MRI revealed a torn MCL.
“The biggest problem was that I couldn’t bend my knee past a 90-degree angle,” Gaston said. “If I got tackled a certain way, my knee would hurt. I just tried to play through it.”
Now pain-free, Gaston has been torturing opposing defenses this season. St. Rita opens the Class 7A playoffs Friday at 7 p.m. at Plainfield East.
A victory would set up a probable second-round game against fellow Catholic Blue foe Providence, a No. 1 seed.
The Celtics upended St. Rita in Week 5 by a 41-27 score.
“Oh my gosh, yes, we want to play Providence again,” Gaston said. “But we can’t afford to look ahead. We have to take care of business on Friday against Plainfield East.”
As far as the business of college is concerned, Gaston has yet to make a decision. It’s not due to a lack of interest. Among his suitors are multiple Big Ten programs, along with Wyoming, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame.
His preference is to stay relatively close to home, which is one reason Notre Dame tops his list.
“I want my mom to be able to come to my games,” Gaston said. “I have to like the school. I plan on taking some visits soon.”
He also plans on visiting his brother Bruce Gaston, a rookie defensive tackle with the Arizona Cardinals. Like Brandon, Bruce starred at St. Rita, before heading to Purdue.
“My brother has always been there for me,” Brandon said. “He told me to never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. He made huge sacrifices and worked out every day. I’m trying to follow in his footsteps.”